Heuristics in Organizations and Society

The Herbert Simon Society has another call for papers out. Some Simon studies luminaries listed participated in Minds, Models and Milieux: Commemorating the Centennial of the Birth of Herbert Simon.

International Conference
Heuristics in Organizations and Society

Turin, 13rd – 14th December, 2018
Collegio Carlo Alberto


The Herbert Simon Society brings together cognitive scientists, economists, social scientists and philosophers aiming to renew the fundamental concepts of rationality and social action. Starting from the seminal work of Herbert A. Simon in economics, psychology, computer science, organizational theory, philosophy of science, the HSS wishes to tackle the current debate about the crisis of economic and social rationality, the alternative architectures of mind, the mind-brain relations and the simulation of creativity.



The Conference intends to analyse the emerging theme of Heuristic decision making in organizations and society. Along the lines of the work of Herbert Simon and James March (2018 is the 60th anniversary of their book “Organizations”) the Conference will focus on how the new approach of the Simple Heuristics could constitute an interesting development for concepts such as organizational and social memory, problem solving and learning.

The study of fast and frugal heuristics took place mainly at the individual level or at most “in the wild” (used for example by professional figures or employees in bureaucratic organizations). To date, there has been little empirical analysis of how this type of heuristics can be effective in an organizational and social context.

In the first place it will be interesting to investigate what kind of heuristics are used at the level of individual organizations and whether there are “local” heuristics, that is specific and idiosyncratic that depend on the organizational context or are the same simple general heuristics that are used in contexts different.

It is a question of understanding, ultimately, whether or not the same heuristics identified at the individual level are valid, in which decision contexts are rational, how they relate to the other cognitive and decisional aspects of the organization.

A first question that could be addressed is “What are the conceptual categories at the base of organizational heuristics?”. Can we think of a hierarchy from the top to the base composed of specific organizational heuristics – smart and frugal heuristics – building blocks- “less-is-more principle”? Is it possible to try to build a toolbox of organizational heuristics?

At the theoretical level simple heuristics when are shared allow greater coordination (easier to understand each other), improvement in the accuracy/effort ratio (good accuracy with little effort), more ability to improvise in dynamic contexts (given their elasticity), more time saving (in fact they are fast), more resources for the attention (not needing “need for cognition”). Simplicity improves the dissemination and sharing of heuristics. This type of heuristics, especially the one-reason based ones, are suitable for semi-structured environments where organizational flexibility is needed because the context is very competitive, dynamic and mutant.

Which heuristics, in which types of organization, in which external contexts? Heuristic decisions are favoured in the normality of daily management or are they preferred in situations of risk of survival or at least of stress as in the event of an alarm on the performance of the company? If the heuristics seem rational at the ecological level in turbulent environments are they also stable? Which portfolio of heuristics define organizational identity? And can there be a heuristic identity not only at the level of a single company, but at that of industrial sectors? If a new company in emerging markets does not have time and financial resources for complex analysis and extensive information gathering, can heuristics be the strategic solution to reduce the cost and time of this collection and analysis? In particular, when it comes to predictions and decisions in conditions of ontic or epistemic uncertainty, can heuristics be the solution?

Heuristics in Turbulent Environment

Which is the external context in which simple heuristics (Gigerenzer, et al. 1999)[1] can assert themselves at the expense of organizational routines? The more the environment is uncertain, unpredictable, turbulent (as in the case of high-tech companies in emerging markets) the greater the possibility that a company finds profitable the use of heuristic decisions (Oliver and Ross, 2005)[2]. Contrarily to what Vuori and Vuori (2014)[3] argued, according to which simple heuristics (SH) require stable structures, this seems to happen because in theory (Loock & Hinnen, 2015)[4] when simple heuristics are shared, they allow greater coordination (easier to understand each other), improvement in the accuracy/effort ratio (good accuracy with little effort), more ability to improvise in dynamic contexts (given their elasticity), more time saving (in fact they are fast), more resources for attention (not needing “need for cognition”).

When the external environment becomes turbulent, as in the example of the abrupt variation of the market by new products of competing companies, it seems, therefore, that the principle “less is more” is preferable. In particular, if we analyse the memory of a company, characterized by beliefs and background knowledge, that is, by cognitive reading keys to categorize external and internal states (Dosi, et al, 2017, Balconi, Pozzali and Viale, 2007)[5] and by automatic decision-making procedures (routines and heuristics) and not (heuristics and algorithms) its divergent role between stationary and unstable states can be highlighted. “Broadly speaking, in simple and stable environments memory does not matter, provided it satisfies some minimal requirements. In more complex and gradually changing ones, having more memory provides an advantage. However, there is some critical level of environmental instability above which forgetfulness is evolutionary superior from the point of view of long-term performance” (Dosi et al., 2017)[6]. In definitive, when the situation changes radically, and the scenarios become characterized by uncertainty (epistemic or ontic), it seems that it is not advantageous to consume resources of time and calculation to retrieve information from the organizational memory. The information refers to effective action patterns in different market contexts and cannot be a valid basis for decisions in the new competitive context. Therefore it becomes less rational and adaptive to rely on a massive information retrieval from the organizational memory to elaborate complex decisions, while it seems more adaptive to forget part of this “traditional” memory (especially linked to the forms of expert categorization of the external environment), to base on little information and use simple recognition heuristics (such as individual ones of non-experts) or heuristics based on few reasons. In the case of external states, the market in particular, it is important to understand which cognitive tool replaces the previous categorization and how much the choice of this tool is connected to the situation of uncertainty that has emerged. As regards, instead, the memory of decision procedures, it seems interesting to identify what organizations tend to forget: the routine procedures (in relation to the change in the external environment) the algorithmic ones or both, since they are no longer adaptive in relation to the situation of uncertainty and to the lack of meaningful information that is required to draw reliable inferences (without the risk of variance). It will then be verified whether these elements of forgetfulness are an element in favour of the company’s competitiveness.

[1] Gigerenzer, G., Todd, PM, and ABC Re. Group (1999). Simple Heuristics That Make Us Smart. New York: Oxford University Press.
[2] Oliver, D., & Roos, J. (2005). Decision-making in high-velocity environments: The importance of guiding principles. Organization Studies, 26(6), 889-913.
[3] Vuori, N., & Vuori, T. (2014). Comment on “Heuristics in the strategy context” by Bingham and Eisenhardt (2011). Strategic Management Journal, 35(11), 1689-1697.
[4] Loock, M., & Hinnen, G. (2015). Heuristics in organizations: A review and a research agenda. Journal of Business Research, 68(9), 2027-2036.
[5] Dosi, G., Marengo, L., Paraskevopoulou, E., & Valente, M. (2017). A model of cognitive and operational memory of organizations in changing worlds. Cambridge Journal of Economics, 41(3), 775-806.
Balconi, M., Pozzali, A., & Viale, R. (2007). The “codification debate” revisited: a conceptual framework to analyze the role of tacit knowledge in economics. Industrial and Corporate Change, 16(5), 823-849.
[6] Dosi, G., Marengo, L., Paraskevopoulou, E., & Valente, M. (2017). A model of cognitive and operational memory of organizations in changing worlds. Cambridge Journal of Economics, 41(3), 775-806.


The Conference aims to investigate heuristics in organizations from a variety of viewpoints: their neurological correlates, their relation with organizational routines, their diffusion within organizations through learning and imitation, and their change in the face of unexpected events.

Purpose of our Conference is twofold: first, to bridge two different strands of literature stemming from the “bounded rationality” paradigm: the “fast and frugal” research program and the literature on organizational routines and learning. Secondly, from a normative point of view, the Conference aims at a “tool-box” of heuristics relevant for organizations facing complex and fundamentally uncertain environments.

The Conference is meant to investigate heuristic decision making, spanning from their individual neurological fingerprints all the way to organizational heuristics guiding strategic decisions and organizational adaptation in complex and changing environments.

The Conference aims to analyse heuristics at all these (interrelated) levels of observation drawing upon a wide array of competences and methodologies, from neuroscience to experimental psychology, from organization science to Agent-Based modelling techniques applied to economics and management.

Main Conference Topics
(it’s a potential list but topics are not limited to the following):

  • Agent based modelling of organizations
  • Behavioral Economics
  • Behavioral Public Administration
  • Bounded Rationality
  • Complexity and organizations
  • Conflicts in organizations
  • Cognitive Economics
  • Ecological Rationality
  • Idiosyncratic organizational heuristics
  • Less-is-More
  • Lexicographic Heuristics
  • Mirror neurons and organizational learning
  • Neurocognitive basis of organizational heuristics
  • One reason-based heuristics
  • Organizational categorization
  • Organizational decision making in stable and unstable environments
  • Organizational learning
  • Organizational memory
  • Organizational perceptions
  • Organizational procedures
  • Recognition-Based Heuristics
  • Routines
  • Satisficing Heuristics
  • Social Rules
  • Social Imitation
  • Trade-Off Heuristics


Giovanni Dosi (Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, Pisa)
Ralph Hertwig (Center for Adaptive Rationality (ARC) – Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Berlin)
Ulrich Hoffrage (Université de Lausanne)
Laura Martignon (Ludwigsburg University)

Important Notes: Single papers from all possible disciplines dealing with the topics of the conference can be submitted (see relevant topics below), sending title and extended abstract (up to 800 words) to callforpapers@herbertsimonsociety.org
A pool of referees of the Herbert Simon Society will review and evaluate the proposals (according to their relevance, originality and rigor).

Publication Opportunities: All accepted abstracts and full papers will be published in the conference proceedings available on the HSS website http://herbertsimonsociety.org/
High quality papers will be given the opportunity to be published in a special issue of Academic Journal “MIND & SOCIETY” edited by Springer

Conference Fee

250,00 € for Seniors (from 31 years upwards)
# 200,00 € in case you have been a member in the past 2 years

150,00 € for Juniors (up to 30 years)
# 120,00 € in case you have been a member in the past 2 years

The Conference Fee will include the membership to the Herbert Simon Society for the current year 2018 – 2019.

Free participation for Current Members Dates and Information

The deadline for sending the abstract is 29th September 2018

Abstract (up to 800 words)

Acceptance will be communicated by 10th October 2018

Deadline for Registration
31st October 2018

PAPERS MUST BE SENT TO: callforpapers@herbertsimonsociety.org

Organizational Structure of the Conference:

Scientific Secretary
Riccardo Viale HSS General Secretary and University of Milano-Bicocca

Steering Committee
Massimo Egidi (LUISS, Roma and HSS Vice-President, Torino)
Luigi Marengo (LUISS, Roma)
Matteo Ploner (Università di Trento)
Pietro Terna (Collegio Carlo Alberto, Torino)

Organizing Secretariat
Carlotta Affatato carlotta.affatato@herbertsimonsociety.org
Giovanni De Rosa giovanni.derosa@herbertsimonsociety.org


Kenneth Arrow (Stanford Univ.)1921-2017†; Mie Augier (Stanford Univ.); William Baumol (New York Univ.); Philip Bromiley(Univ. of Minnesota); Richard Day (Univ. of Southern California); Giovanni Dosi (Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies, Pisa); Peter Earl (Univ. of Queensland); Massimo Egidi (LUISS, Rome); Edward Feigenbaum (Stanford Univ.); Shane Frederick (Massachusetts Institute of Technology); Gerd Gigerenzer (Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Berlin); Yuji Ijiri (Carnegie Mellon Univ.); Daniel Kahneman (Princeton Univ.); David Klahr (Carnegie Mellon Univ.); Kenneth Kotovsky (Carnegie Mellon Univ.); Pat Langley (Stanford Univ.); Axel Leijonhufvud (Univ. of Trento); Brian Loasby (Univ. of Stirling); James March (Stanford Univ.); Luigi Marengo (Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies, Pisa, Italy); Pamela McCorduck (Writer); Richard Nelson (Columbia Univ.); Joseph Pitt (Virginia Polytechnic Institute); Roy Radner (New York Univ.); Reinhard Selten (Univ. of Bonn) 1930-2016†; Katherine Simon Frank (Univ. of Minnesota); Vernon Smith (George Mason Univ.); James J. Staszewski (Carnegie Mellon Univ., Pittsburgh); Shyam Sunder (Yale School of Management); Raul Valdes-Perez (Vivisimo, Inc.); Riccardo Viale (Univ. of Milano-Bicocca).


Gerd Gigerenzer (Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Berlin)

Vice Presidents
Massimo Egidi (LUISS, Rome)
Katherine Simon Frank (University of Minnesota)

General Secretary
Riccardo Viale (Università Milano-Bicocca)

Honorary Members
Kenneth Arrow (Stanford University, Nobel Prize) 1921-2017†
Giovanni Dosi (Scuola Universitaria Superiore Sant’Anna, Pisa)
Edward Feigenbaum (Stanford University)
Daniel Kahneman (Princeton University, Nobel Prize)
James March (Stanford University)
Richard Nelson (Columbia University, New York)
Roy Radner (New York University)
Reinhard Selten (Bonn University, Nobel Prize) 1930-2016†
Vernon Smith (George Mason University, Fairfax, Nobel Prize)
Oliver Williamson (Berkeley University, Nobel Prize)

Via Sant’Agostino, 30 – 10122 Torino – Italy
URL: http://herbertsimonsociety.org/